We want to believe it can be found, even if the reality seems to argue otherwise

By Robert Sarner, Canadian Jewish News, June 20, 2002

JERUSALEM - While growing up in North America, I was to believe that for every problem there is a solution, even if not always an ideal one. But now, after 11 years of living in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is testing that belief like never before.

I am not alone. In recent months, many Israelis have come to the conclusion that, for the time being at least, the situation with the Palestinians is hopeless. And, not surprisingly, their confidence in the rest of the Arab world has also hit rock bottom.

Is it possible, despite aspirations to the contrary, that the conflict with the Palestinians cannot be resolved? Could it be that the beliefs, grievances and attitudes on both sides are irreconcilable? Are we locked in one big messy Gordian knot forever? All this, of course, runs counter to what we want to think and what the peace process was supposed to deliver.

Such thoughts of futility and forsaken dreams are downright depressing - and increasingly common among Israelis. Events of the last few months, to say nothing of the past two years, have convinced people these doubts are more realistic than the feel-good promises of peace agreed to in the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Against a background of rampant Islamic fanaticism, the past 21 months of Palestinian atrocities have shaken Israel, darkening most people's view of the future. The terrorist campaign and the vile anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian media and schools have left most Israelis deeply disillusioned, dashing their high hopes of the 1990s.

Earlier this month, the Jerusalem Post published the results of two polls that underline some of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to resolving the conflict. According to the surveys, both Israelis and Palestinians, albeit for different reasons, massively reject the recent peace proposals espoused by the United States and Saudi Arabia. In the poll of Israeli Jews, only 16 percent support withdrawal to the 1967 borders in return for a peace deal with the Palestinians and Arab states. The Palestinian poll found that only 24 percent support such a plan if it did not also include the right of return of Arab refugees to Israel. When that is included in the plan, support among Israeli Jews drops to 4 percent. The Post considered the implications of the results important enough to place the findings on its front page.

The polls reflect - and also feed - the country's pessimistic mood. They beg the question whether we are condemned to at least another generation of tensions and hostilities with our Palestinian neighbors. People wonder if the status quo is the best they can expect in the foreseeable future.

As the bloodshed and hatred intensify, the Israeli-Palestinian feud is living up to its image as one of the world's most intractable conflicts. This is no small feat given the other contenders such as Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Korea, Cyprus, and Chechnya.

No one really wants to believe that there is no solution. But for all the talk of security fences and separation, neither the Likud nor Labor leaders have come up with a credible way out of the current abyss. In the absence of better days, people take solace however they can. Recently, distant events provided Israelis some dubious consolation, reminding them that as bad as the reality is, it could be much worse.

This month, as India and Pakistan came to the brink of war in their long-simmering dispute over Kashmir, the world had to contemplate the once unthinkable - a nuclear battle on the Asian subcontinent that US military analysts said could kill several million people. With almost perverse relief, Israelis watched India and Pakistan wrestle with the latest flare-up in their seemingly endless feud that has claimed 35,000 lives since 1990.

It is somehow vaguely reassuring to see others embroiled in a dispute perhaps even more volatile, more hate-filled, more drenched in blood and more irresolvable than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For a moment, our problems seemed to pale in comparison.

Such facile thinking, of course, gets us nowhere. We remain part of a major dispute in desperate need of a solution, however imperfect. I still want to believe it can be found, even if the reality seems to argue otherwise.

< Back